Frequently asked questions: E-textiles

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Scroll down to view the most commonly asked questions about e-textiles

What is e-textiles?

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E-textiles refers to the use of electronics in textiles products to add functional or decorative effects. They are sometimes called electronic textiles and wearable electronics.  There is no soldering and you just need basic sewing skills and a very limited knowledge of circuits.

What components do I need to create a circuit?

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To create a basic circuit you need a cell holder (the power source), a cell (battery), an LED (there are 2 types, a PCB one or a traditional LED with wire legs) and conductive thread to join it all together.  

I am just starting out using e-textiles; what components would you advise I buy?

I suggest you keep things simple until you understand some of the basic trouble shooting tips, especially if you are a teacher doing e-textiles in a classroom. The cell holder with a switch is the easiest to use as you haven’t got to think about adding a switch to your circuit. The PCB LEDs are the easier to use than the standard ones with the wire legs as they have the negative and positive marked on them and there is no fiddly leg twisting to do. 

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What other equipment will I need?

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You will need a large eye needle to use with the conductive thread. You will also need round nosed pliers to twist the legs on the LEDs if you are using a standard LED. Having a bin handy is essential to have somewhere to get rid of the bits of thread you cut off as they can short out your circuit. 

Are the components safe?

The components that are used are specially designed for use in textiles products. You can’t get electrocuted, they don’t produce heat and there is no fire risk.

In the tutorials some components have green boards and some white, what do the colours mean?

The green is a traditional colour used on the boards. White boards are a more recent development that are designed to be less obvious under textiles materials. The colour of the board makes no difference to the function of the component. 

What do the plus and minus sign on the LEDs and cell holder mean?

These indicate the polarity of the component. When creating a circuit you need to connect one positive connection on the cell holder to the positive on the LED. The negative on the cell holder and LED also match up. There are additional holes on the cell holders and these can be used to create an additional circuit if needed. If an additional circuit is not needed these holes can be left unstitched or held down with ordinary thread. 

What are the holes on the boards for?

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The holes enable you to sew the components onto the fabric. Holes with metal rings around them are conductive and they are stitched using conductive thread to create a circuit. When choosing components from a company choose ones that have large holes in them as they will be easier to sew. 

What is the difference between a PCB and standard LED?

A PCB LED had the light source mounted onto the board. It also has the negative and positive connections marked on the board and there are no fiddly legs to twist. This therefore makes it easier to use. A standard LED has wire legs that have to be twisted into loops so they can be sewn onto the fabric. They are fiddlier and it is easy to forget which leg is which once they are twisted. They are however cheaper and available in a wider variety of colours and types.

What type of batteries do the cell holders take?

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The battery needed for the cell holders in indicated on the webpage that sells the e-textiles components. They are not sold on this website but can easily be bought from supermarkets and high street stores. They are small and shaped like a coin which is why they are often known as coin cells. They are similar to the type of battery you might find in a watch. 

How long will a battery last?

This depends on how many LEDs are attached and how long the LED is left on for. It might also depend on the quality of the battery itself and how it has been stored. Batteries left switched on all the time with one LED will last for at least 10 hours and will often run for much longer than this. 

How many LEDs can you attach to a battery?

This depends on a variety of factors, including what type of LEDs you are using and how far apart they are. You can attach from about 3-6 LEDs to one battery. You may find you can attach more but the light will be dimmer and the battery won’t last as long. 

How far apart can the LEDs be?

This depends on a variety of factors, including how many LEDs you are using. The closer the LEDs are the brighter they will be. The recommendation is that your circuit should be no longer than about a metre for it to be effective. 

How do I identify the negative leg on a standard LED?

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The longer leg is the positive and the shorter leg is the negative. Just above the negative leg on the side of the bulb you can feel a flat surface (like the edge of the bulb has been cut off) and this can also be used to identify the polarity of the LED. You can mark one of the legs to help you remember which it is. I have a rule that I always twist and stitch the negative legs on a circuit before doing anything to the positive side as that way I can’t get confused. 

Can the circuits be washed?

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I have washed the LEDs and conductive thread successfully by hand on a cool wash (don’t wash the cell holder, cells or switches). Bear in mind that the rubbing done during washing might loosen or damage your circuit. If your item will require regular washing create a part or whole circuit that can be removed from the product. A cell holder, for example, can be stitched onto a separate piece of fabric and attached with poppers, and this will make it removable for washing. 

Do I just push the LED through a hole I have cut in the fabric?

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If you are using a non fray fabric you can simply cut a hole and poke your LED through it. On fraying fabrics this will give a messier finish so you should neaten the hole before putting the LED through it e.g. buttonhole, metal eyelet, gap left in a seam. The legs on the standard LED will poke through some fabrics without breaking the threads. The LEDs will also shine through many fabrics without a hole being cut at all. 

Can I use any metal thread to connect my circuit?

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A specialist conductive thread has to be used to create a circuit. There are a number of metal embroidery threads available but these are not conductive and will not work in circuits. 

Can I  just attach the LEDs to any side of the cell holder?

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To create a circuit you need to identify one positive hole and one negative one and these are attached to the corresponding sides of the LED. There may be additional holes on a cell holder and these are for additional circuits. The additional holes don’t have to be used and can be left unstitched or held in place using ordinary sewing thread. 

My thread has snapped / run out, do I have to start again?

Don’t tie a knot in thread to join it as this will potentially weaken the conductivity of the thread. Instead pull out the stitches to go back to the last set of oversewing stitches. Attach a new thread on top of the old oversewing stitches being sure you have a good connection to the board or LED you are stitching. 

What do I need to think about when designing with e-textiles?

This will depend on the project and the type of circuit but things to consider might include: Where will you put the LEDs? How will  you get them through the fabric? Where will  you place the battery? Will access to the battery be required? Will the product need washing? 

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Where can I find example projects?

A variety of example projects can be found on the free e-textiles resources page on this website

Where can I find help if I get stuck?

On the free e-textiles resources page on this website there are some ‘How to’ tutorials that might help you, including one on trouble shooting. There are also a range of video tutorials at the links mentioned above or alternatively visit my You Tube Channel. If you are still stuck email julie@julieboyd.co.uk and I will try to answer your query. 

Where can I buy the components?

E-textiles components are not currently available to buy as individual components from this website and can only be purchased as part of a kit. To buy individual e-textiles components I recommend you visit www.kitronik.co.uk.

Do you run courses to learn how to use e-textiles?

Most of the courses I run are for teachers. Visit the Courses page on this website for more details of my courses. I can also run bespoke courses in schools. If you are not a teacher and are looking for a course I occasionally run non teacher workshops, especially if you can get together a group of friends who are interested as I need a minimum number of people to go ahead. I can also run one to one training but this is significantly more expensive. Email julie@julieboyd.co.uk for details. 

Got any other questions?  Email julie@julieboyd.co.uk


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Links you might find useful

Find out more about what e-textiles is

Free ‘how to’ guides on how to use e-textiles components

Free e-textiles project ideas and tutorials 

Buy e-textiles kits

Teaching & learning resource to buy that includes e-textiles

Courses on e-textiles 


Contact:     Tel 01159 607061    Mob 07972 749240   Email julie@julieboyd.co.uk

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© Julie Boyd 2012  All  text, images & ideas on this website are the copyright of Julie Boyd & may not be copied or reproduced without permission.. All rights Reserved.